Saturday, July 01, 2006

Teething issues in a finicky market

So, the new Taurus PT1911s are finally starting to (very slowly) hit store shelves, almost a year after they started accepting pre-orders. The big buzz of course is that this is a $450 1911 from a major manufacturer with a lifetime warranty.

Gun writers have generally given the gun excelent reviews, on their pre-production samples anyway; but the ONE person I know of who has recieved his so far (and I'm sure more will over the next few weeks) has had some issues with the gun.

Firstly, the grip screws were either glued or threadlocked in. This is a BIG no-no in 1911 land, as one of the first modifications a 1911 owner frequently makes, even if they are otherwise leaving a gun stock, is to change the grips. Also the grip bushings were of too soft a metal, and the screwdriver slots stripped out. He determined this was due to an overaplication of wither glue or thread locking compound on the bushings (which IS correct unlike on the screws), and he had to dremel them off and replace them with standard grip bushings.

The next problem he enconutered is that the magazines supplied with the gun didnt work with all of his other 1911s (hsa has about a dozen). Some of them worked OK, some didnt. Basically the tighter the gun, and the tighter the production tolerances, the worse it worked. This indicates a magazine that is either at maximum GI mag spec for length, or even very slightly over; and is an interference of tolerances issue.

This is a common production issue, where parts at the extreme ends of standard tolerances causes clearances between moving parts to fall to unacceptable closeness or in fact to actually interfere with each other (the opposite problem, the accretion of tolerances, is when the gaps become too large by parts being at the extremely small end of their tolerances).

Honestly though, these are really all standard early production run teething issues. Every manufactured item has them, guns are no exception; and are in fact especially sensitive too them since they involved closely fitted components moving at high speed and pressure.

Taurus as a manufacturer is famous for having their early production run guns be “not quite right”, but they also always fix the problems within a few months, and then they’ll fix the guns for free (as they should), under their lifetime warrant.

Not only that, but Taurus is also used to doing things the Taurus way. Now that they are in the 1911 world, they are going to have to do things the 1911 way, or they wont sell many 1911’s.

1911 buyers are finicky. They are choosing a 97 year old (it was actually designed in 1909) pistol design for a reason; and they dont want it changed very much.

A 1911 MUST be functionally and physically interchangable with other 1911’s or it will just be a tiny niche player in the market. They must strip, assemble, and disassemble the same way; and they must be modifiable in the same ways. 1911 buyers arent looking for a Taurus gun that happens to be a 1911, they are looking for a 1911 that happens to be made by Taurus; and if Taurus wants to be successful in this market, they need to learn the difference.

Now some SMALL differences are acceptable, IF and only if, they are for an innovative and useful new feature, AND they don't substantially impact the parts interchangeability of the gun. Smith and Wesson for example use a propietary firing pin safety system connected to the grip safety that works better than the colt series 80 style; because it doesn't adversely effect trigger pull, and only very slightly effects parts swapping - the only problem with it is that it complicates reassembely, especially after detail stripping. Several manufacturers, including S&W, Kimber, SIG, and many race gun makers, use external extractors on their 1911's, to avoid the issues with the internal tension spring extractor (of course the externals have their own issues). Para-Ordnance uses a hybrid design combinng features of the external extractore in and internal extractor package.

The important part however, is that these changes didnt substantially impact the processes surroundign the gun from the perspective of a standard 1911; or substantially impact the parts buying or gunsmithing processes. If this were not the case, market failure would soon nhave followed.

Even Smith and Wesson and SIG had to learn this lesson the hard way. S&W only had a few smalll issues when they brought out their SW1911 series, which they fixed right away; and the SW19111s have become S&Ws best selling auto pistols. In afact S&W is now third in volume of new 1911 sales behind Springfield and Kimber (Colt sells every unit they manufacture, but they don't make many). SIG on the other hand introduced the GSR series of 1911s with major variances from the standard 1911, and they didnt resolve the issues with the GSR until this new series of revolution released a couple months ago.

That’s THREE full YEARS of production with major issues; but SIG was so used to doing it their way (and being sucessful at it) they ignored the problems, until they had a major bottom line impact; and only then did they fix things. Plesae note, the original GSRs werent BAD guns; indeed they were excellent guns (very tightly fitted, with great accuracy, but some reliablity issues); but they weren't fully compliant to the 1911 standard, and thus other than the initial buying rush (oooh look, a new 1911, and its from SIG wow!) 1911 buyers stayed away in droves; and gunsmiths wouldn't work on the guns (in fact, even with the very small differences cause by the S&W firing pin safety for example, some gunsmiths wont work on those guns)

Gun buyers are an inherently conservative lot (not just politically), and they DO NOT WANT THEIR FAVORITE DESIGNS MESSED WITH. Do so at your peril.